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Norms reconstituting interests: global racial equality and U.S. sanctions against South Africa

  • Audie Klotz (a1)


The extraordinary success of transnational anti-apartheid activists in generating great power sanctions against South Africa offers ample evidence that norms, independent of strategic and economic considerations, are an important factor in determining states' policies. The crucial role of a strengthened global norm of racial equality in motivating U.S. anti-apartheid sanctions illustrates the limitations of conventional international relations theories, which rely primarily on structural and material interest explanations, and supports theoretically derived constructivist claims. In particular, this case suggests that analysts should examine the role of global norms in defining states' interests, rather than viewing norms solely as external constraints on state behavior.



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For extensive discussions and detailed comments I thank Paul D'Anieri, Locksley Edmondson, Lori Gronich, Anita Isaacs, Peter Katzenstein, Cecelia Lynch, John Odell, Judith Reppy, Chris Reus-Smit, Cherie Steele, and Alex Wendt. I gratefully acknowledge financial support for research and writing from the following institutions: the National Science Foundation's graduate fellowship program, the Social Science Research Council's MacArthur Program on International Peace and Security, and the University of Southern California's visiting scholar program at its Center for International Studies.

1. For the most comprehensive overview of sanctions against South Africa, see Geldenhuys, Deon, Outcast States: A Comparative Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

2. See, variously, Minter, William, King Solomon's Mines Revisited: Western Interests and the Burdened History of Southern Africa (New York: Basic Books, 1986); Study Commission on U.S. Policy Toward Southern Africa, South Africa: Time Running Out (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); and Coker, Christopher, The United States and South Africa 1968–1985: Constructive Engagement and Its Critics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986).

3. For an overview of the early international debates over apartheid, see Bissell, Richard E., Apartheid and International Organizations (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1977); as well as the debate summaries and resolutions in United Nations (UN), Department of Information, Yearbook of the United Nations (New York: Columbia University Press/United Nations, 19461988). Hereafter, these annuals will be cited by title and year.

4. The 1977 arms embargo is the one notable mandatory UN sanction against South Africa. It targeted South Africa's aggressive regional military role, defined as a “threat to international peace and security,” and violations of Security Council sanctions against Rhodesia. It was not adopted in response to apartheid, as evident in Western permanent members' concurrent rejection of mandatory economic sanctions. For details of these debates and resolutions see UN, Yearbook of the United Nations, 1977.

5. The most explicit statement of this position is National Security Study Memorandum 39, prepared for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. For details see El-Khawas, Mohamed A. and Cohen, Barry, eds., National Security Study Memorandum 39: The Kissinger Study of Southern Africa (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1976). However, similar arguments dominated policy as early as the Truman administration. See Borstelmann, Thomas, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle: The United States and Southern Africa in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). For an overview of the South African government's view, see Barber, James and Barratt, John, South Africa's Foreign Policy: The Search for Status and Security 1945–1988 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

6. For details of the shift in U.S. policy toward Rhodesia, see Lake, Anthony, The Tar Baby Option: American Policy Toward Southern Rhodesia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).

7. Analyses of policies toward South Africa are rarely explicitly theoretically informed but generally conform to either a traditional realist perspective or a domestic politics perspective. A noteworthy exception is Bender, Gerald J., Coleman, James S., and Sklar, Richard L., eds., African Crisis Areas and U.S. Policy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), which emphasizes the importance of bipolarity and superpower intervention in southern African conflicts. For an elaboration on the theoretical tenets and critiques of a structural realist approach, see Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neo-realism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

8. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker's own characterization of policymaking in the early 1980s confirms both an assumption of executive autonomy and the priority given to strategic concerns, confirming the applicability of a statist approach as characterized by Krasner, Stephen D. in Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978). For elaboration, see Crocker's, autobiography, High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighborhood (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992).

9. See Krasner, Stephen D., Structural Conflict: The Third World Against Global Liberalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Grieco, Joseph, Cooperation Among Nations: Europe, America and Non-tariff Barriers to Trade (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990); and some (but not all) contributions to Krasner, Stephen D., ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983).

10. For elaboration, see Borstelmann, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle. For historical overviews of the origins and evolution of demands for racial equality, see Davis, David Brion, Slavery and Human Progress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984); Blackett, R. J. M., Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983); Lauren, Paul Gordon, Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial Discrimination (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1988); and Harding, Vincent, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (New York: Vintage, 1981). Explaining the origins of this norm of racial equality is beyond the scope of this article.

11. See Keohane, Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); and Oye, Kenneth A., ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986). Martin's evaluation of these claims suggests significant support for the importance of institutions. See Martin, Lisa L., Coercive Cooperation: Explaining Multilateral Economic Sanctions (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992).

12. External constraint may, however, have limited overt support for the South African regime, even in the early postwar period when the norm of racial equality was emerging and material interests were strong. See Borstelmann, Apartheid's Reluctant Uncle, chap. 4.

13. See Keohane, Robert O., “International Institutions: Two Approaches,” International Institutions and State Power: Essays in International Relations Theory (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1989), pp. 159–79; and Moravcsik, Andrew, “Negotiating the Single European Act,” in Keohane, Robert O. and Hoffmann, Stanley, eds., The New European Community: Decisionmaking and Institutional Change (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991), pp. 4184.

14. The broad range and coordinated nature of international reactions to South African apartheid are more than coincidental; for a defense of this claim, see Klotz, Audie, Protesting Prejudice: Apartheid and the Politics of Norms in International Relations (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, forthcoming).

15. For elaboration on why this transnational emphasis goes beyond conventional notions of sovereignty and levels of analysis, see Adler, Emanuel and Haas, Peter M., “Conclusion: Epistemic Communities, World Order, and the Creation of a Reflective Research Program,” International Organization 46 (Winter 1992), pp. 367–90.

16. See especially the following works by Kratochwil, Friedrich, “Of Systems, Boundaries, and Territoriality: An Inquiry into the Formation of the State System,” World Politics 38 (10 1986), pp. 2752; On the Notion of ‘Interest’ in International Relations,” International Organization 36 (Winter 1982), pp. 130; The Force of Prescriptions,” International Organization 38 (Autumn 1984), pp. 685708; and Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). See also Wendt, Alexander, “Anarchy Is What States Make of It,” International Organization 46 (Spring 1992), pp. 391425; and Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood, World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989). Wendt and Onuf label this perspective constructivist based on the structuration theory of sociologist Anthony Giddens, the main tenet of which is that structures and agents reconstruct each other in a dynamic process of iteration. For elaboration on and critiques of Giddens's theory, see Held, David and Thompson, John B., eds., Social Theory of Modern Societies: Anthony Giddens and His Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

17. See, for example, Ruggie, John Gerard, “Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations,” International Organization 47 (Winter 1993), pp. 139–74.

18. Despite frequently being characterized as articulating a rival research paradigm, constructivists accept many of the substantive aspects of the regimes research agenda. For examples of similarities among institutionalist approaches, see Young, Oran, International Cooperation (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989); and contributions in Rosenau, James N. and Czempiel, Ernst-Otto, eds., Governance Without Government: Order and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). On the paradigmatic dichotomy between institutional approaches see Keohane, “International Institutions”; and Adler and Haas, “Conclusion: Epistemic Communities, World Order, and the Creation of a Reflectivist Research Program.”

19. See, for example, the emphasis on ideas as “road maps” in Goldstein, Judith and Keohane, Robert O., “Ideas and Foreign Policy: An Analytical Framework,” in Goldstein, Judith and Keohane, Robert O., eds., Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 330.

20. On the historical roots of Pan-Africanism, see Legum, Colin, Pan-Africanism: A Short Political Guide (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1962). Unless otherwise noted, the following discussion of the relationship between Pan-African ideology and African-American political activism derives from Magubane, Bernard Makhosezwe, The Ties That Bind: African-American Consciousness of Africa (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1987); Edmondson, Locksley, “Black America as a Mobilizing Diaspora: Some International Implications,” in Shaffer, Gabriel, ed., Modem Diasporas in International Politics (New York: St. Martin's, 1986), pp. 164211; and White, Philip V., “The Black American Constituency for Southern Africa, 1940–1980,” in Hero, Alfred O. Jr., and Barratt, John, eds., The American People and South Africa: Publics, Elites, and Policymaking Processes (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1981), pp. 83102.

21. Activism had been inhibited during the McCarthy era. For details, see Lynch, Hollis R., Black American Radicals and the Liberation of Africa: The Council on African Affairs 1937–1955 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, 1978); and Staniland, Martin, American Intellectuals and African Nationalists, 1955–1970 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991).

22. Magubane, , The Ties that Bind, p. 216.

23. For details, see White, , “The Black American Constituency for Southern Africa, 1940–1980,” p. 87.

24. See Edmondson, , “Black America as a Mobilizing Diaspora,” pp. 183 and 185.

25. For details of the Polaroid controversy and its consequences, see White, , “The Black American Constituency for Southern Africa, 1940–1980,” pp. 8990.

26. For a discussion of Young's role, see Jackson, Henry F., From the Congo to Soweto: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Africa Since 1960 (New York: William Morrow, 1982), pp. 153–60.

27. For details on Robinson and TransAfrica, see ibid., pp. 123–26.

28. Ibid., p. 125.

29. Edmondson, , “Black America as a Mobilizing Diaspora,” pp. 194–95.

30. See, for example, Robinson, Randall, “The Reagan Administration and Southern Africa,” TransAfrica Forum 1 (Summer 1982), pp. 36.

31. For more on Jackson's role, see Edmondson, , “Black America as a Mobilizing Diaspora,” p. 192; Magubane, , The Ties that Bind, p. 224; Sampson, Anthony, Black and Gold: Tycoons, Revolutionaries, and Apartheid (New York: Pantheon, 1987), p. 166; and Baker, Pauline, The United States and South Africa: The Reagan Years (New York: Ford Foundation, 1989), p. 30.

32. Public opinion research confirms that broad-based support for racial equality preceded demands for congressional action. See Hill, Kevin A., “The Domestic Sources of Foreign Policymaking: Congressional Voting and American Mass Attitudes Toward South Africa,” International Studies Quarterly 37 (06 1993), pp. 195214.

33. Wilkins, Roger, “Demonstrating Our Opposition,” Africa Report 30 (0506 1985), p. 31.

34. Crocker originally proposed constructive engagement in Crocker, Chester, “South Africa: Strategy for Change,” Foreign Affairs 59 (Winter 1980/1981), pp. 323–51. See also Crocker, High Noon in Southern Africa; Baker, The United States and South Africa; and Coker, The United States and South Africa, 1968–1985.

35. For a detailed explanation of Kissinger's policy see El-Khawas and Cohen, National Security Study Memorandum 39.

36. For a critique of the liberal view of the relationship between economic change and apartheid reform, see Greenberg, Stanley B., “Economic Growth and Political Change: The South African Case,” Journal of Modem African Studies 19 (12 1981), pp. 667704.

37. These policy documents were published in a special edition of TransAfrica News Report, August 1981 and are reprinted in Baker, The United States and South Africa, Appendix A, pp. 105–112.

38. For details of opposition to his nomination, see Crocker, High Noon in Southern Africa.

39. For the full text of Reagan's comments, see U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, “Remarks by President Reagan at a News Conference, March 21,1985,” doc. 158, in The United States and South Africa: U.S. Public Statements and Related Documents, 1977–1985 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 09 1985), p. 307.

40. Congressman Gray, William H. III, interviewed by Hirschoff, Paula, Africa Report 30 (0506 1985), p. 50.

41. See Crocker, , High Noon in Southern Africa, pp. 81 and 231.

42. Two (Nkomati and Lusaka) regional accords between South Africa and its neighbors, which Crocker had held up as successes of constructive engagement, fell into disarray as South Africa adopted a more aggressive regional military strategy. For details of these accords and South Africa's broader regional policies see Barber and Barratt, South Africa's Foreign Policy.

43. Baker, , The United States and South Africa, p. 36.

44. Congressional representatives were responding to broad national debates, rather than simple concern for their own reelection. Using public opinion data and voting records, Hill argues that there is “no evidence of direct constituency transmission of South Africa attitudes to their representatives.” See Hill, , “The Domestic Sources of Foreign Policymaking,” p. 210.

45. Walker, Robert S., “A Conservative Viewpoint Against Apartheid,” Africa Report 30 (0506 1985), p. 55.

46. Walker, , “A Conservative Viewpoint Against Apartheid,” pp. 5455.

47. See Baker, , The United States and South Africa, pp. 16 and 41; Minter, , King Solomon's Mines Revisited, pp. 310–12; and Crocker, High Noon in Southern Africa.

48. U.S. Department of State, “Prohibiting Trade and Certain Other Transactions Involving South Africa,” Executive Order 12532, 9 09 1985, in United States and South Africa, doc. 176, pp. 365–68.

49. For details, see The Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons, Mission to South Africa (London: Penguin, 1986).

50. The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986: PL 99–440 U.S. Statutes at Large 100 (1986), pp. 1086–116.

51. For a discussion of how black South African groups perceived U.S. aid, see Clarizio, Lynda M., United States Policy Toward South Africa (New York: Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights, 1989), pp. 40 and 66.

52. On U.S. characterization of the ANC as a terrorist organization, see Redden, Thomas J. Jr., “The U.S. Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986: Anti-Apartheid or Anti-African National Congress?African Affairs 87 (10 1988), pp. 595605.

53. New York Times, 11 07 1991, p. A1.

54. See Geldenhuys, Outcast States; Lauren, Power and Prejudice; Commonwealth Secretariat, The Commonwealth at the Summit: Communiques of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, 1944–1986 (London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 1987); and Holland, Martin, The European Community and South Africa (London: Pinter, 1988).

55. New York Times, 3 May 1991, p. A11. For a more detailed discussion of the role of international sanctions in South African reforms, see Klotz, Protesting Prejudice, chap. 9.

56. For a detailed analysis of the failure of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain, see Klotz, Protesting Prejudice, chap. 7.


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